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November 30, 2011

Interesting Point By Dennis Miller On The Ego Of The Gut

I have written about this about eight times, usually in comments, I think.

I will get complaints that this is another Cain-bashing post. Well, Miller does un-endorse Cain, but that is honestly not the reason I'm posting this.

It's because of a theory I've been fumbling towards which Miller endorses here.

I have wondered why some arguments get so heated, especially on the Internet, even among friends, or, at least digital acquaintances of long standing and some amount of mutual goodwill.

The way I put it is that the arguments that get the most ferocious are those which should actually cause the least amount of heat and fire -- arguments in which the fact-set is substantially unknown.

In situations where most facts are unknown or only partly known, that really should, if we're being all logical and intellect-based, cause the least emotional involvement in one side or the other, because both sides are, if they're being completely honest, both pretty much ignorant.

I don't mean "ignorant" as it generally applies-- ignorant of things, generally. I mean that in specific situation where facts are barely known by anyone, all parties are groping in the darkness, and hence are ignorant of the true facts.

And they should know they're ignorant, and should know that the facts of the matter can only be guessed at, and ergo any conclusions they draw from the mostly-hidden fact-set must be tentative at best, and, being tentative at best, should produce the least emotional heat, for such tentative, provisional, contingent, weakly probabalistic best-guess conclusions should have the least certitude behind them, and, if they have the least certitude behind them, the least emotional and egotistical investment in them.

Right? I mean, this stands to reason. If I'm arguing with you about, say-- well, let's say Cain, since Miller is talking about Cain here -- we're both ignorant. I don't know, and you don't know. We are both guessing, relying on rules of thumb, patterns of human behavior, general worldview, general cynical vs. idealistic factory setting, etc. We are relying entirely on proxies to find an answer, because the actual direct evidence, which we'd both gladly admit is necessary to really answer the question, is entirely absent.

So we are forced to resort to secondary, indirect, inferential evidence, and general rules of thumb.

And so we should both be rather modest in our confidence in our conclusions, as our conclusions are built on foundations of sand.

And we both know that.

And so this discussion should produce almost no heat, no anger, no cursing, no frustration. We're both sitting here taking stabs in the dark, and we both, if asked, have to confess the complete inadequacy of

That's not true, though, is it? In fact, this specific situation seems to consistently produce the most anger and heat.

I'm including myself -- I am not saying "You suck and here's why." I am not saying "Here's why you suck." I am analyzing a specific set of human responses, which are common to myself as well, and wondering about them.

Why are we getting so angry and emotionally invested in stuff that we actually have the least information about, and therefore the least confidence as regards conclusions based on our meager information?

I have guessed previously that it's precisely because these discussions are not about information that can be readily determined and assessed that makes them so personal.

Because facts and data are, by their nature, impersonal. If tomorrow it's proven -- proven -- that all of Herman Cain's accusers were recruited by David Axelrod, I will promptly admit "Man did I get that one wrong."

And similarly I imagine if proof emerges of impropriety on Cain's part, most of his defenders will similarly confess error.

But in that case, it would have been taken out of the realm of the personal. It's not personal, anymore, once it's about proof and facts. Now it's a purely intellectual affair -- no heat. No anger.

Less of a bruised ego. Because people don't get invested, as far as emotional and egositiscially investment, in facts and data.

What they get emotionally and egotistically invested in is probabilities and guesses based upon underlying worldview.

It's this -- the gut, the "psychic vibe," the horse-sense, the common-sense, the cunning, the read on people, the ability to predict the future based on incomplete information -- that people really get personally invested in.

It really makes no sense. Everyone knows there is no such thing as psychic vibes, everyone knows the "gut" is a decent instinctual device but hardly something you'd want to start betting big money on, and everyone knows that predicting the future is a job for charlatans and fools, but when we start making predictions -- "Sarah Palin can't win!"; "No, Sarah Palin will dominate!" -- all of a sudden we start speaking with a level of assuredness and confidence and emotional investment that we are too smart to apply to virtually any other situation.

And this keeps happening. No matter what the topic, the less that is known about a situation, the less intellectually confident we can each be about our tentative conclusions, the more emotionally confident we will become.

The Intellect is detached from each of us. It is impersonal. The Intellect is a separate thing, a place we visit but do not live in.

We call upon the Intellect to answer some questions (but not most); but we're just tapping into this impersonal thing called logic. It's not us.

But the gut? The gut is us. The gut is really us, and it is really personal to us.

So when someone contradicts your hunch, they're not just making an intellectual observation (about which we'd shrug and just say either "Eh I agree" or "Eh I disagree" without much passion).

When someone's gut is contradicted, that is, in a real way, a personal slight, because that's saying that someone's inborn sense of things is flawed.

Anyway, this is something that interests me (and must interest you, as well, if you've made it to this line). So I'm interested to see Dennis Miller talking about just this, the ego we each invest in the never-stated-but-definitely-assumed proposition that of all the gut-senses and psychic antennae in the world, our own gut-senses and psychic antennae are the most finely tuned, or, at least, top 0.1%.

Certainly it's terribly unlikely we'd ever actually meet someone with a better gut-sense than our own. Sure, it's mathematically possible, but statistically very unlikely, so we should just always assume that whenever a gut-sense is involved, we're totally right and our opposites are completely wrong and not just wrong, but likely immoral, stupid, and acting in bad faith and with a hidden ulterior motive.

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posted by Ace at 05:20 PM

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